Expats behaving strangely: 12 ajnabi habits that will forever make no sense to Arabs!

Published February 24th, 2015 - 16:50 GMT

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According to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, the cultural differences between the east and west are so severe that they will inherently lead to war. However, we see thousands of expats living, working, studying, and touring the Middle East everyday. While of course some countries are notoriously more tolerant of foreigners than others, welcoming strangers is an integral part of Arabic culture.

But what do locals think when expats do cross cultural red lines, intentionally or unknowingly? Let’s take a look a lighter look at the Clash of Civilizations, highlighting the quirkier behaviours of expats living in the Middle East through the eyes of locals. Continue reading below »

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Hugging: Who doesn’t love a good hug?! Maybe hugging people in your home country is a casual way to greet a person, but in the Middle East (albeit capital of kissing-greeting culture) hugging, especially members of the opposite sex, is bound to make locals feel uncomfortable. Best stick to a friendly handshake.
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Image 1 of 12:  1 / 12Hugging: Who doesn’t love a good hug?! Maybe hugging people in your home country is a casual way to greet a person, but in the Middle East (albeit capital of kissing-greeting culture) hugging, especially members of the opposite sex, is bound to make locals feel uncomfortable. Best stick to a friendly handshake.

Enlarge
Eat with left hand: Left hand, right hand, who cares as long as the food gets to your mouth, right? WRONG! In the Middle East, the left hand is reserved for less refined uses… Mainly for washing up after using the toilet. There is logic to it after all!
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Image 2 of 12:  2 / 12Eat with left hand: Left hand, right hand, who cares as long as the food gets to your mouth, right? WRONG! In the Middle East, the left hand is reserved for less refined uses… Mainly for washing up after using the toilet. There is logic to it after all!

Enlarge
Girls with body hair: Got hairy arms or a bit of a ‘stache? Try being in conversation with a local, but don’t be surprised if they seem distracted by your forearms! It could be because you failed to painfully wax or sugar all the hair off! Local ladies wouldn't be caught dead with hairy arms!
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Image 3 of 12:  3 / 12Girls with body hair: Got hairy arms or a bit of a ‘stache? Try being in conversation with a local, but don’t be surprised if they seem distracted by your forearms! It could be because you failed to painfully wax or sugar all the hair off! Local ladies wouldn't be caught dead with hairy arms!

Enlarge
Not sharing food: Did you bring your lunch to work today? Did you notice a few looks as the delicious smell wafted throughout the office? Well maybe you should offer a bite to your Arab coworkers, as sharing food in the Middle East is a must.
Reduce

Image 4 of 12:  4 / 12Not sharing food: Did you bring your lunch to work today? Did you notice a few looks as the delicious smell wafted throughout the office? Well maybe you should offer a bite to your Arab coworkers, as sharing food in the Middle East is a must.

Enlarge
Eating rare meat: I’d like my steak cooked rare please! You’ll never hear these words out of the mouth of a local in the Middle East. They like their steaks fully cooked or a bit on the burnt side, no pink in the middle.
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Image 5 of 12:  5 / 12Eating rare meat: I’d like my steak cooked rare please! You’ll never hear these words out of the mouth of a local in the Middle East. They like their steaks fully cooked or a bit on the burnt side, no pink in the middle.

Enlarge
Running/exercising: Fancy a morning jog? It might turn a few heads! Many expats turn to exercise to relieve the stress of moving to a foreign country. However, you are likely to get noticed, especially if you’re a woman wearing shorts and a tank top! But don’t let that stop you. Some locals may even join you on your jog.
Reduce

Image 6 of 12:  6 / 12Running/exercising: Fancy a morning jog? It might turn a few heads! Many expats turn to exercise to relieve the stress of moving to a foreign country. However, you are likely to get noticed, especially if you’re a woman wearing shorts and a tank top! But don’t let that stop you. Some locals may even join you on your jog.

Enlarge
Dogs in the house: A sure way to the dog-house! Dog may be man’s best friend, but that does not give them the privilege of sleeping inside the home in the ME! According to Islam, dogs keep angels away and for this reason they are kept in the garden. Sorry, Fido!
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Image 7 of 12:  7 / 12Dogs in the house: A sure way to the dog-house! Dog may be man’s best friend, but that does not give them the privilege of sleeping inside the home in the ME! According to Islam, dogs keep angels away and for this reason they are kept in the garden. Sorry, Fido!

Enlarge
Speaking fus-ha: Many students arrive in the Middle East raring to put their Arabic language skills to test! But what you learned in university is the Arabic equivalent of Shakespearian English. While most will understand what you're trying to say, they might have a chuckle at your beautiful prose when you ask for a cuppa tea!
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Image 8 of 12:  8 / 12Speaking fus-ha: Many students arrive in the Middle East raring to put their Arabic language skills to test! But what you learned in university is the Arabic equivalent of Shakespearian English. While most will understand what you're trying to say, they might have a chuckle at your beautiful prose when you ask for a cuppa tea!

Enlarge
Not eating bread with breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day! So where is your bread, expats? Perhaps you are more likely to chow down on a bowl of cereal than bread with hummus, haloom, and chai. Well get with the agenda, or avoid communal breakfasting!
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Image 9 of 12:  9 / 12Not eating bread with breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day! So where is your bread, expats? Perhaps you are more likely to chow down on a bowl of cereal than bread with hummus, haloom, and chai. Well get with the agenda, or avoid communal breakfasting!

Enlarge
The act of queuing: Nothing is worse for a Westerner than being skipped in a queue, but for many in the Middle East, the idea of forming a civilised line doesn’t exist. When confronted about cutting the line, a lot of Arabs will look puzzled while the angry expat’s face gets red with rage.
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Image 10 of 12:  10 / 12The act of queuing: Nothing is worse for a Westerner than being skipped in a queue, but for many in the Middle East, the idea of forming a civilised line doesn’t exist. When confronted about cutting the line, a lot of Arabs will look puzzled while the angry expat’s face gets red with rage.

Enlarge
Cohabitation before marriage: Shacking up with your partner pre-marriage? While this is a norm in the west, its a no-no in the ME! Proof of marriage to rent a house together might even be required! Or maybe your roommate just so happens to be a member of the opposite sex… Still, romance aside, no loving Arab parents would allow it!
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Image 11 of 12:  11 / 12Cohabitation before marriage: Shacking up with your partner pre-marriage? While this is a norm in the west, its a no-no in the ME! Proof of marriage to rent a house together might even be required! Or maybe your roommate just so happens to be a member of the opposite sex… Still, romance aside, no loving Arab parents would allow it!

Enlarge
Getting naked in gym locker rooms: Stripping off publicly is not an option for male only or female only changing rooms, and modesty memos can be found as helpful reminders that you are mandated to keep your clothes on, even when proceeding to shower stage...
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Image 12 of 12:  12 / 12Getting naked in gym locker rooms: Stripping off publicly is not an option for male only or female only changing rooms, and modesty memos can be found as helpful reminders that you are mandated to keep your clothes on, even when proceeding to shower stage...

Enlarge

1

Hugging: Who doesn’t love a good hug?! Maybe hugging people in your home country is a casual way to greet a person, but in the Middle East (albeit capital of kissing-greeting culture) hugging, especially members of the opposite sex, is bound to make locals feel uncomfortable. Best stick to a friendly handshake.

Image 1 of 12Hugging: Who doesn’t love a good hug?! Maybe hugging people in your home country is a casual way to greet a person, but in the Middle East (albeit capital of kissing-greeting culture) hugging, especially members of the opposite sex, is bound to make locals feel uncomfortable. Best stick to a friendly handshake.

2

Eat with left hand: Left hand, right hand, who cares as long as the food gets to your mouth, right? WRONG! In the Middle East, the left hand is reserved for less refined uses… Mainly for washing up after using the toilet. There is logic to it after all!

Image 2 of 12Eat with left hand: Left hand, right hand, who cares as long as the food gets to your mouth, right? WRONG! In the Middle East, the left hand is reserved for less refined uses… Mainly for washing up after using the toilet. There is logic to it after all!

3

Girls with body hair: Got hairy arms or a bit of a ‘stache? Try being in conversation with a local, but don’t be surprised if they seem distracted by your forearms! It could be because you failed to painfully wax or sugar all the hair off! Local ladies wouldn't be caught dead with hairy arms!

Image 3 of 12Girls with body hair: Got hairy arms or a bit of a ‘stache? Try being in conversation with a local, but don’t be surprised if they seem distracted by your forearms! It could be because you failed to painfully wax or sugar all the hair off! Local ladies wouldn't be caught dead with hairy arms!

4

Not sharing food: Did you bring your lunch to work today? Did you notice a few looks as the delicious smell wafted throughout the office? Well maybe you should offer a bite to your Arab coworkers, as sharing food in the Middle East is a must.

Image 4 of 12Not sharing food: Did you bring your lunch to work today? Did you notice a few looks as the delicious smell wafted throughout the office? Well maybe you should offer a bite to your Arab coworkers, as sharing food in the Middle East is a must.

5

Eating rare meat: I’d like my steak cooked rare please! You’ll never hear these words out of the mouth of a local in the Middle East. They like their steaks fully cooked or a bit on the burnt side, no pink in the middle.

Image 5 of 12Eating rare meat: I’d like my steak cooked rare please! You’ll never hear these words out of the mouth of a local in the Middle East. They like their steaks fully cooked or a bit on the burnt side, no pink in the middle.

6

Running/exercising: Fancy a morning jog? It might turn a few heads! Many expats turn to exercise to relieve the stress of moving to a foreign country. However, you are likely to get noticed, especially if you’re a woman wearing shorts and a tank top! But don’t let that stop you. Some locals may even join you on your jog.

Image 6 of 12Running/exercising: Fancy a morning jog? It might turn a few heads! Many expats turn to exercise to relieve the stress of moving to a foreign country. However, you are likely to get noticed, especially if you’re a woman wearing shorts and a tank top! But don’t let that stop you. Some locals may even join you on your jog.

7

Dogs in the house: A sure way to the dog-house! Dog may be man’s best friend, but that does not give them the privilege of sleeping inside the home in the ME! According to Islam, dogs keep angels away and for this reason they are kept in the garden. Sorry, Fido!

Image 7 of 12Dogs in the house: A sure way to the dog-house! Dog may be man’s best friend, but that does not give them the privilege of sleeping inside the home in the ME! According to Islam, dogs keep angels away and for this reason they are kept in the garden. Sorry, Fido!

8

Speaking fus-ha: Many students arrive in the Middle East raring to put their Arabic language skills to test! But what you learned in university is the Arabic equivalent of Shakespearian English. While most will understand what you're trying to say, they might have a chuckle at your beautiful prose when you ask for a cuppa tea!

Image 8 of 12Speaking fus-ha: Many students arrive in the Middle East raring to put their Arabic language skills to test! But what you learned in university is the Arabic equivalent of Shakespearian English. While most will understand what you're trying to say, they might have a chuckle at your beautiful prose when you ask for a cuppa tea!

9

Not eating bread with breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day! So where is your bread, expats? Perhaps you are more likely to chow down on a bowl of cereal than bread with hummus, haloom, and chai. Well get with the agenda, or avoid communal breakfasting!

Image 9 of 12Not eating bread with breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day! So where is your bread, expats? Perhaps you are more likely to chow down on a bowl of cereal than bread with hummus, haloom, and chai. Well get with the agenda, or avoid communal breakfasting!

10

The act of queuing: Nothing is worse for a Westerner than being skipped in a queue, but for many in the Middle East, the idea of forming a civilised line doesn’t exist. When confronted about cutting the line, a lot of Arabs will look puzzled while the angry expat’s face gets red with rage.

Image 10 of 12The act of queuing: Nothing is worse for a Westerner than being skipped in a queue, but for many in the Middle East, the idea of forming a civilised line doesn’t exist. When confronted about cutting the line, a lot of Arabs will look puzzled while the angry expat’s face gets red with rage.

11

Cohabitation before marriage: Shacking up with your partner pre-marriage? While this is a norm in the west, its a no-no in the ME! Proof of marriage to rent a house together might even be required! Or maybe your roommate just so happens to be a member of the opposite sex… Still, romance aside, no loving Arab parents would allow it!

Image 11 of 12Cohabitation before marriage: Shacking up with your partner pre-marriage? While this is a norm in the west, its a no-no in the ME! Proof of marriage to rent a house together might even be required! Or maybe your roommate just so happens to be a member of the opposite sex… Still, romance aside, no loving Arab parents would allow it!

12

Getting naked in gym locker rooms: Stripping off publicly is not an option for male only or female only changing rooms, and modesty memos can be found as helpful reminders that you are mandated to keep your clothes on, even when proceeding to shower stage...

Image 12 of 12Getting naked in gym locker rooms: Stripping off publicly is not an option for male only or female only changing rooms, and modesty memos can be found as helpful reminders that you are mandated to keep your clothes on, even when proceeding to shower stage...

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